KELLEY'S COVE, YARMOUTH COUNTY - At first, Kevin Fitzgerald thought he’d found the partial skeleton of a person or a cow tangled amongst the seaweed on the beach behind his Kelley’s Cove home.
The gleaming white ribcage and long leg bone fit the bill… but then he saw the claws on the feet and tufts of black hair.
He realized it was a bear.
Fitzgerald says the sand fleas likely helped to strip the frame down to bones. He thinks the bear’s journey may have originated in Maine.
“We’ve had a lot of rough waves coming in because of the hurricanes passing by. I think it washed ashore from there,” he said.
He estimates it weighed about 100 pounds when alive.
Randy Cross, a bear biologist with the State of Maine, says it’s possible that ocean currents may have transported the bear far from its origin, but that the body could also have been dumped in the ocean locally.
“I can confirm that our bears do swim to off-shore islands that are close to the mainland occasionally (as much as a couple miles in some cases),” he said.
“The body could have washed into the ocean during spring run-off as well.
“An interesting find,” he added.
Whether the bear was alive when it set out to sea or dead and dumped by a hunter or other misfortune can’t be determined from the partial remains.
Andrew Hebda, curator of Zoology with the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, joined in with musings on the mystery.
“Bears in saltwater… possible… not for recreation, but for travel,” he said.
He says the body could be that of a local bear, depending on what the drift (and currents) are like.
“In general, circulation in that part of the Gulf of Maine is counter-clockwise, so drift of carcasses usually is not that great… however, you never know.”
He surmises that from the appearance of the fleshy part of the bear’s foot that the remains could be a couple of months old.
“That which is exposed will, ultimately, be eaten by a number of factors, be it fish, or once on shore, by invertebrates,” he said.
“The unexposed parts (ie: such as those covered or wrapped in seaweed, etc.) will remain cooler, and quite readily persist for a couple of months.”
The cause of the bear’s death could be one of many. Hebda says he occasionally encounters bits of livestock within the Minas Basin/Cobequid Bay.
“Some probably just fall-ins, some dumped, so without a closer ‘forensic’ look, it would just be a guess.”
Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is only bear species in Nova Scotia
Average Size: 45 - 200 Kg (100 - 440 lbs.)
Diet: Omnivore. Can smell food over 1 km away.
Young: 1 to 3 cubs, born in January/February. Cubs remain with mother for a full year.
Average Life Span: 12 Years
Activity Pattern: Nocturnal; hibernate in winter
Shuffling walk but are excellent swimmers and can sprint short distances at speeds up to 56 km/hr.